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The Crucial First Page of Your Novel

My latest craft book in The Writer’s Toolbox series just released. Here is a preview excerpt from First Pages of Best Sellers: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why:

Most authors know that the first pages of a novel are the most crucial and carry the weightiest burden in their entire book. The opening scene must convey so many things that often the author will have to rewrite it numerous times to get it right.

But the first page is especially crucial to get right.

Why? Because if readers don’t get engaged in the story right away, they’ll stop reading. I’ve heard literary agents say that if the first paragraph doesn’t grab them, they move on to the next submission. That puts a tremendous burden on writers to bring their best effort to the table.

When you’re a best-selling author with a following, your fans might be forgiving enough to bear with you through some slow or less-than-masterful pages to see how your novel unfolds. And we’ll see a number of first pages by best-selling authors that appear to be carelessly thrown together, perhaps based on that confidence that their loyal readers will be lenient with their judgement. Continue Reading…

Wrapping Up Our Look at Best Seller First Pages

Sadly, I’m bringing this look at first pages to an end—at least for now. It’s been an intriguing journey looking into these twenty-six first pages of best sellers. Along with many readers of this blog, I was also surprised to see quite a few of the traditional “rules” of good scene structure broken—especially by highly successful authors.

Here are some of the observations I made, shared by numerous commenters. And I’ll reiterate a few salient points that I feel bear repeating about strong openings.

What’s a Super Author Required to Do?

First off—just because a super-author like Stephen King or John Grisham can get away with writing a boring first page featuring a blah character, that doesn’t mean other authors should copy them.

Whether such authors don’t bother or care to work harder to craft a great opening, or they’re way too busy signing books for adoring fans around the world, or they’re under too much deadline pressure, there’s no way to really know. Continue Reading…

First Pages of Best-Selling Novels: The Sword of Summer

For our final post that looks at best-seller first pages, we’re going to take a look at one of Rick Riordan’s Middle Grade novels. Riordan’s novels are hugely popular, playing off mythology. His new series, starting with The Sword of Summer, delves into Norse legends. I know some of you are going to be sad that I’m stopping this series, but I may come back to this later in the year.

I find the cover and title page confusing, because “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard” are in huge letters, implying this is the novel’s title. But “The Sword of Summer” is in smaller lettering at the bottom as well as on the header inside the book. The large phrase seems to be the series title.

Riordan’s stories are fun, effervescent romps with lots of heroes and action and humor. Just the right recipe for young readers looking for escape from math homework.

We looked at literary best sellers that require readers to basically suffer and work hard to enjoy the story, as if that gives the author Brownie points. Continue Reading…

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